Only a handful of games remain on the NHL's schedule for the 2011-12 regular season, so our fantasy hockey coverage this week is focusing on next season, with an early look at some key considerations for the 2012-13 campaign (and the earliest rankings lists to be found).
The list comes with the obvious disclaimer that free agency and trades -- both among the goalies and players skating in front of them -- can greatly alter the list. This season, in particular, there are some rising young players whose value may increase significantly based upon where they land. I'll discuss these netminders, as well as analyze players who took steps forward this season and those who took steps backward. Other notes include a rundown of potential bounce-back candidates and the crop of future sophomores and rookies set to make an impact in 2012-13.
And for those fighting to eke out a bit more positive production out of the goalie position in the final week, scan down to the last section, which features some waiver-wire fodder for the last push.
Top of the list
1. Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers: Despite stumbling (in a relative sense) in March with a 2.50 goals-against average and .897 save percentage, Lundqvist most likely will finish in the top three in those categories (as well as wins) by season's end. Both of his ratios (1.92/.932 as of this writing) are career bests, and mark a significant jump from 2010-11, plus the Rangers defensemen are a promising young corps on the rise, featuring Dan Girardi (27), Marc Staal (25), Ryan McDonagh (22) and Michael Del Zotto (21). Oh, and Lundqvist remains in his prime as well, as he turned 30 on March 2. He may not finish the season as the No. 1 goaltender on the Player Rater (he's second this season behind Brian Elliott), but he can be drafted with confidence in the first round of fantasy drafts.
2. Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings: Much of what was written about Lundqvist is true of Quick, aside from the age part, as the Connecticut native just turned 26. In previous campaigns, Quick had declined down the stretch. This season, he got his "bad" month out of the way early -- November, when he went 4-5-2 with a 2.43 GAA and .924 save percentage -- and sits in the No. 3 spot on the Player Rater with just two or three games left for most teams. Jonathan Bernier may or may not be back -- he's long been a rumored trade candidate, and might be dealt this offseason -- but Quick is a safe pick near the top of the draft in either scenario.
3. Jimmy Howard, Detroit Red Wings: Compare the following two stat lines: Player A had 37 wins in 63 starts, a 2.79 GAA and .908 save percentage; Player B compiled 34 wins in 54 starts, with a 2.14 GAA and .920 save percentage. It turns out both players are Howard, but the former is the 2010-11 version -- when he disappointed the folks who'd drafted him in the first few rounds -- while the latter is the 2011-12 version, who went later and thus provided a much better return on that investment. The latest version of Howard is similar to his 2009-10 self, so perhaps we chalk the middle season to a sophomore slump. Though the Red Wings are an aging team, it feels like we've been saying that for years and they continue to dominate. There's no reason to expect any big change that will knock Howard from the ranks of the elite fantasy netminders for next season.
4. Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators : After posting 2.12/.930 ratios on the way to 33 wins in 2010-11, Rinne was a Vezina Trophy finalist (the award given to the NHL's top goaltender) and finished fourth in the voting for the Hart Trophy (which goes to the overall league MVP). One of the first goalies off the board, he did not disappoint, as he'll finish either first or second in wins (currently he's ahead of Marc-Andre Fleury by one), and though his ratios are off from last season's marks, his overall production has him No. 8 on the Player Rater among goalies. The Predators are big fans -- they inked him to a seven-year, $49 million extension on his birthday on Nov. 3 -- and fantasy owners can be, too. There's some uncertainty with stud defensemen Ryan Suter (an unrestricted free agent) and Shea Weber (a restricted free agent) this offseason that may alter this ranking a bit, but if both return, Rinne remains an elite option.
5. Roberto Luongo, Vancouver Canucks: This was a difficult season at times for Luongo, who struggled with the evil twin brothers of inconsistency and nagging injuries. There was also the mental albatross of last spring's failure in the Stanley Cup finals, in addition to him having a backup who many believe to be better than a number of actual starters. It's not certain that Cory Schneider will be gone next season -- he's set to be an RFA, so the acquisition process is a bit more difficult than his UFA brethren -- but at age 33, Luongo still has another few elite seasons left, and the core of the Canucks' skaters all remain under contract for next season. Luongo may go lower in drafts than in previous seasons, but I predict a bounce back in production.
Top 40 Goalies for 2012-13
Note: Tim Kavanagh's top 40 goalies are ranked for their expected performance in ESPN standard leagues. ESPN standard stats include wins, goals-against average and save percentage. The ranking at the start of the 2011-12 season is indicated in parentheses.
1. Henrik Lundqvist, NYR (2)
2. Jonathan Quick, LA (14)
3. Jimmy Howard, Det (15)
4. Pekka Rinne, Nsh (5)
5. Roberto Luongo, Van (1)
6. Marc-Andre Fleury, Pit (12)
7. Jaroslav Halak, StL (16)
8. Mike Smith, Pho (27)
9. Ilya Bryzgalov, Phi (7)
10. Ryan Miller, Buf (10)
11. Tim Thomas, Bos (4)
12. Kari Lehtonen, Dal (19)
13. Carey Price, Mon (6)
14. Brian Elliott, StL (NR)
15. Jonas Hiller, Ana (11)
16. Martin Brodeur, NJ (13)
17. Cam Ward, Car (18)
18. Devan Dubnyk, Edm (32)
19. Craig Anderson, Ott (17)
20. Semyon Varlamov, Col (29)
21. Niklas Backstrom, Min (23)
22. Antti Niemi, SJ (8)
23. Evgeni Nabokov, NYI (NR)
24. Braden Holtby, Was (NR)
25. Josh Harding, Min (NR)
26. Corey Crawford, Chi (9)
27. Ondrej Pavelec, Wpg (26)
28. Miikka Kiprusoff, Cgy (20)
29. Tomas Vokoun, Was (3)
30. Tuukka Rask, Bos (31)
31. Jose Theodore, Fla (25)
32. Jacob Markstrom, Fla (NR)
33. Cory Schneider, Van (38)
34. Richard Bachman, Dal (NR)
35. Jhonas Enroth, Buf (NR)
36. Ben Bishop, Ott (29)
37. Sergei Bobrovsky, Phi (39)
38. Dustin Tokarski, TB (NR)
39. Ray Emery, Chi (36)
40. James Reimer, Tor (21)
Two steps forward
8. Mike Smith, Phoenix Coyotes: Coyotes coach Dave Tippett and Smith have a relationship going back to their days with the Dallas Stars, and with Smith hitting the market the same offseason that the Coyotes bid adieu to Ilya Bryzgalov, it was a match. Furthermore, there were some who expected some good things from the man who'd posted 2.89/.899 ratios in 22 appearances for the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2010-11 (good for the prestigious No. 63 overall ranking on the Player Rater for that campaign). No one, however, predicted just how good Smith would be, as he's currently No. 4 on the Player Rater among goalies. The typical warning about small sample sizes applies here, but there's reason to believe we'll see Smith near the top of the ranks again next season (wherever the team is playing its home games).
14. Brian Elliott, St. Louis Blues: The opening days of NHL free agency is an exciting time, so signings such as Elliott's last summer tend to slide in under the radar. And in this case, that was for good reason: Over the three previous seasons, he'd been good for a 2.91 GAA and .901 save percentage. Occasional hot streaks had resulted in multiple NHL Player of the Week honors, but overall not much was expected out of him, and he was largely undrafted in fantasy. Even after Elliott started the season with another hot streak, there were doubters galore. But as he continued to produce -- especially after Ken Hitchcock took over as coach -- that doubt began to dissipate. Both Elliott and Jaroslav Halak are inked through 2013-14, which means we could see another timeshare next season. However, while this does put a bit of a limit on the production of both, they do sit in the No. 1 and No. 6 positions on the Player Rater among goalies for this season, when the timeshare was in full effect.
18. Devan Dubnyk, Edmonton Oilers: Dubnyk did not come out of nowhere in the second half of this season: He took control of the Oilers' crease down the stretch of 2010-11, and some believed that he had a stranglehold on the spot again for 2011-12. Nikolai Khabibulin -- by way of his early-season renaissance -- had other ideas, and for a while it looked like Dubnyk would be pasted to the bench indefinitely. However, as Khabibulin faded, Dubnyk came on strong, and his work in March -- including a 6-2-1 record, 1.95 GAA and .934 save percentage -- was appreciated by those deft enough to grab him off the waiver wire. Khabibulin has another year left on his contract, but there's every reason to suspect that this will be Dubnyk's undisputed job this fall.
Three steps back
26. Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks: After finishing the 2010-11 season in the No. 11 spot on the Player Rater, there were high hopes that Crawford would continue to improve in his second full season as the Blackhawks' No. 1 netminder, and his average draft position of 63.8 put him 10th among goalies. For those who haven't been paying close attention, Crawford lost his starting job to journeyman Ray Emery, and the two have traded the starting role back and forth. Not exactly what Chicago wants from the position, nor what fantasy owners want from a player who required such a high investment. This may have something to do with the infamous "sophomore slump" -- he can contact Andrew Raycroft and Steve Mason, who run the support group for those afflicted -- or it could be a sign that he's incapable of matching that strong work from 2010-11. Either way, expectations have decreased significantly for 2012-13.
29. Tomas Vokoun, Washington Capitals: This year's crop of fantasy goalies was projected to have a big three: Lundqvist, Luongo and Vokoun. Henrik fulfilled his role and Roberto did some good things, but Tomas did not pull his weight. With an ADP of 20.5, those taking Vokoun expected an elite season; instead, they got a player who'll finish outside the top 20 among goalies on the Player Rater, limping to the finish with a groin injury that limited him to 12 of the team's 30 games in February and March. He turns 36, so it's hard to project what exactly will become of the UFA for next season after high hopes were extinguished on a big stage in 2011-12.
13. Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens: A possible concussion may have ended his 2011-12 season prematurely, but given his issues all season that might be for the better. After finishing fifth among goalies on the Player Rater last season, he's currently No. 19. With a new general manager and head coach on the way, there could be some major changes for 2012-13. No matter what happens, though, Price is skilled enough to believe that he'll be back in top form for next season, and when he's on his game, he's among the best in the league.
17. Cam Ward, Carolina Hurricanes: The Hurricanes were not expected to make a big run at the Stanley Cup in 2011-12, but the disappointing start to the season that cost Paul Maurice his job was not foreseen by many, either. Ward, in particular, was not expected to be part of the problem, and he was the 16th goalie off the board on average in ESPN leagues before early-season struggles brutalized his fantasy owners' ratio categories. The ship seems to be headed in the right direction under Kirk Muller, and Ward's stats have been better in the second half of the season. Expect him to be back to his usual self next season.
Looking for work
16. Martin Brodeur, New Jersey Devils: Throwing Brodeur's name in this category is a tad misleading because he's either going to re-sign with the Devils or retire this offseason. The 39-year-old has established new all-time standards in a number of categories -- and will be a no-brainer Hall of Famer once he's eligible -- but he may elect to suit up for one more season. If he does, he hasn't slowed down too much this season and it's logical to believe he'll be up for another strong performance in 2012-13.
25. Josh Harding, Minnesota Wild: In scattered work as Niklas Backstrom's backup/injury replacement this season, the 27-year-old showed he has the talent to at least enter training camp in a competition for a starting job somewhere, if not have the gig to himself outright.
33. Cory Schneider, Vancouver Canucks: The inclusion of Schneider here is also a bit misleading, as his free agency is restricted this offseason, which is just as it sounds: Another team can construct an offer sheet, at which point the Canucks have the right to match or accept a package of draft picks in exchange, as determined by the collective bargaining agreement. However, unlike fellow RFAs Price and Dubnyk -- who are pegged as starters next season -- the Canucks already have a franchise goalie in Luongo and may be less inclined to match a big offer. With the right team -- like the one for which a Red Wings legend is the GM, for example -- Schneider's value will skyrocket.
NR. Al Montoya, New York Islanders: A hero down the stretch in 2010-11, Montoya faded into the background behind Evgeni Nabokov this season. With Nabby re-signed for next season -- and Rick DiPietro still in the club's plans in some fashion -- Montoya may peddle his wares around the league this summer to find a team with an easier path to the starting job. There's upside here, but until we know where he's landed, it's hard to project just how valuable he'll be for our purposes.
NR. Jonas Gustavsson, Toronto Maple Leafs: After his much-ballyhooed pursuit and eventual signing by the Maple Leafs in the summer of 2009, the Monster has not quite lived up to that hype or his nickname on a consistent basis. While he said he enjoys the pressure that a hockey-crazed market in Toronto brings, a fresh start in another city may be best for bringing out that potential. For now, he's outside the Top 40, but that could change depending upon where he lands.
24 Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals: With one more appearance in 2011-12, Holtby becomes ineligible for any rookie honors in 2012-13. According to the NHL's Hockey Operations Guidelines: "To be considered a rookie, a player must not have played in more than 25 NHL games in any preceding seasons, nor in six or more NHL games in each of any two preceding seasons. Any player at least 26 years of age (by Sept. 15 of that season) is not considered a rookie." -- so he fits into this section. It would be logical to believe he'll be in the mix to compete for the Caps' starting gig in next season's training camp. A 12-4-0 career record, with a 2.04/.928 career ratios split, would indicate that he has a bright future ahead of him.
35. Jhonas Enroth, Buffalo Sabres: A stable backup to Ryan Miller this season, Enroth likely faces a similar task in 2012-13. But even if he's limited to 20-25 starts, there's some value there, as long as he performs more like he did early on -- he posted 2.31/.922 ratios in November -- rather than in later months, when his lack of usage resulted in rusty performances when he did appear.
2012-13 impact rookies
32. Jacob Markstrom, Florida Panthers: Markstrom's status as one of the top goaltending prospects was cemented by some work early this season. Appearing in seven contests, the Swede managed a 2.66 GAA and .923 save percentage. Jose Theodore will still be around next season, but Scott Clemmensen will not, and there's every reason to suspect that Markstrom will be -- at a minimum -- part of a timeshare in net for the Panthers in 2012-13.
38. Dustin Tokarski, Tampa Bay Lightning: Tokarski's five-game cup of coffee with the Lightning this season did not go entirely well, as evidenced by his 3.45/.879 ratios and the fact the team went 1-3-1 in those starts. Nevertheless, in that victory -- 33 saves on 34 shots by the Boston Bruins -- the 22-year-old Saskatchewan native showed he does have the talent to compete at the NHL level; he just needs to display that on a more consistent basis. Tampa Bay's situation in goal remains in flux this offseason, but Tokarski could be a part of the plan for next season. If so, he may become quite fantasy-relevant.
NR. Allen York, Columbus Blue Jackets: Like the Lightning, the Blue Jackets are expected to be active in the goaltending market this offseason, whether that includes signing another young netminder to compete with York and Steve Mason or a veteran backup (as they did with Curtis Sanford this season). York played well enough in 10 appearances to give them pause in throwing a ton of money or draft picks around: In 357:48 of work, he allowed 14 goals (good for a 2.35 GAA) and posted a .921 split. Obviously, his ranking will shift depending on what happens in the coming months.
Sergei Bobrovsky, Philadelphia Flyers: With Ilya Brzygalov ailing, Bobrovsky appears to be the man in control of the crease until the playoffs begin. In his past three games, he's gone 2-0-1, with a 2.60 GAA and .914 SV%. He's only owned in 28.4 percent of ESPN leagues, so if a boost is needed, he may be available to provide it.
Al Montoya, New York Islanders: Evgeni Nabokov is likely to miss the remainder of the regular season with a lower-body injury, leaving the duties in net for Montoya and recent signee John Grahame, who last appeared in an NHL contest in 2007-08. As with Bobrovsky, Montoya is widely available in ESPN leagues right now.